We started driving towards Rinchenpong in Sikkim & all I expected was another hill town. We expected some stunning view of Kanchenjunga. Do we not get them from almost all town. I think most towns were built at the strategic viewpoints. It would have a couple of old Buddhist monasteries with some stories who visited this monastery and when. Well, I was both right and wrong. Yes, Rinchenpong has lovely views of the Kanchenjunga range of Himalayas.
Yes, it has those lovely monasteries with flags fluttering on both sides of the path leading to them. But, it was much more than that – that no guide or guidebook told me.
Before I take you around Rinchenpong, let me admit that this maps on the wall of Rinchenpong bazaar helped us discover a lot of the town. How I wish every town has such a tourist map to guide and inform tourists.
The Orchid Trail.
The tourist map of Rinchenpong called it an Orchid belt, but I choose to call it an Orchid Trail. We followed the road till Rinchenpong Gompa and parked the car. Had no other option as the road ended here. We started walking through the thick forest on a roughly defined path that was full of fallen leaves. For about 20 minutes, there was no sign of any habitation or even orchids. I wondered if we are on the right path, but our guide insisted that we walk a little more. The prayer flags here and there that indicated human habitation around. After a while, we saw a lone house in the middle of the jungle. Now it was not a hut or a small outhouse, it was a nice well-maintained house.
Houses in the forest.
The path ahead went through the house. As soon as we stepped in its verandah we found ourselves surrounded by pots full of orchid flowers. We had water from their hand pump and moved on. Here on, we kept getting houses at regular intervals – each with a lovely array of Orchids in their backyards and front yards. Some even had flowering cactus. At one house we stopped and spoke to the lady of the house – I loved the jewelry she was wearing. I wondered how they lived without a road, and for them, it was just a way of life and they did not want a road leading right up to their homes.
After about an hour we traced out way back to our car, but I was richer with the knowledge of the hills. I knew that roads and facilities that we so yearn for is not something that everyone wants. Some people like their home surrounded by trees. Anyone visiting them must make an effort to walk to them.
At one of the houses, we met a kid who could replicate the sounds of the birds. We were stunned to see this 3-4-year-old child talking to birds as it tried to reproduce the same sounds as birds made on trees around her.
Legend of Poison Lake.
Nieng Dah or the Poison Lake is an almost dry lake now. You will find young boys playing cricket here. The name Poison lake is intriguing, so we asked around and this is what we heard.
When the first British official came to Rinchenpong and built a Bungalow. This lake was directly linked to his Bungalow. One fine day, Lepchas – the local tribe planned to kill him by poisoning the lake. As luck would have it, his staff which in spite of being local informed him about the Poison and saved his life.
I came back and the stories on the internet tell me that the poisoned lake actually killed many soldiers of the British forces in 1860. This forced the British to retreat. The lake that is almost non-existent now is still believed to be poisoned.
You choose the story you want to believe in. To me it highlights that biochemical wars are not a new phenomenon – they have existed forever.
The British Bungalow.
From the Poison Lake, a road goes to the British Bungalow of the Poison Lake fame. It is now a PWD guest house – kind of out of bound for the public. It hardly looks old – I assume a lot of renovation has happened over a period of time.
The Traditional Sikkimese House.
This is a house that made us go around Rinchenpong. The map placed it ahead of the Poison Lake but we kept driving and all we saw was a path through thick forests.
Finally, we did see a stone house with very interesting colorful windows, standing alone in a large compound. The lower part was stone walls in an unusual criss-cross fashion. The upper floor has wooden windows with perforations cut in different geometric shapes. Corners had panels of different colors.
Since there were lots of dogs around, I stuck to the car. Our guide went inside to seek a permission to visit the house, that was rudely refused.
Monasteries of Rinchenpong.
We visited two monasteries in Rinchenpong – one on each end of the Bazaar.
Honestly, I can not make much of the monasteries except that their vibrant colors surrounded by greenery most of the time. The flags around them, fluttering with the wind tell me about the human faith.
Walk in Rinchenpong Bazaar.
Rinchenpong bazaar stands on the edge of the main road here. It is a perfect place to pick up your Chai and may be a plate of Momo. And admire the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Pray for a clear day, though.
Rhododendron sanctuary is another attraction near Rinchenpong, but to see it in full bloom, you must go sometime in March-April. We just missed it by a whisker in late April.
Have you added Rinchenpong to your list of places to visit in Sikkim !
Recommend you to read following blog posts on Places to visit in Sikkim.